Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribes

Environmental Training Resource
August 31, 2012 — 1,019 views  
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The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released its final policy on consultation and coordination with Indian tribes. This was part of President Obama's issuance of executive order 13175 in November 2009, which established regular and meaningful consultation and collaboration with tribal officials while developing and implementing federal policies that have direct or indirect effects on Indian tribes. According to the EPA website, the agency was the first of the federal agencies to finalize its consultation policy.

"EPA is dedicated to strengthening our collaboration with tribes and ensuring that they have a voice and a seat at the table on the issues that touch their health and their economy," said EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "President Obama has directed agencies across the federal government to revisit and update the ways we work together with tribal nations, a step that is critical to meeting the needs of today and ensuring our communities are cleaner, healthier and more prosperous heading into the future."

The EPA highlighted four phases as part of their final policy on communicating and working with tribal officials before making decisions that could affect them. These phases are identification, notification, input and follow-up. During the identification phase, the EPA looks at activities that may be appropriate for further consultation. This includes looking at new and existing regulations or rules, policies, guidance documents, legislative comments, budget and priority planning, permits and emergency response activities.

Following this information-gathering aspect, the EPA would notify the tribes of the activities that they have deemed appropriate for collaborative consultation. Options for notification include using letters or mass mailings, telephone and conference calls, in-person meetings and any other methods previously agreed upon.

The subsequent input phase is the primary aspect of consultation and collaboration between the EPA and Indian tribes. The idea behind the final policy is that both sides would freely and openly discuss any outstanding issues that either side might have. The aforementioned methods for notification will also be used during the input phase. Additionally, multiple rounds of input are likely, with back and forth communication to ensure that both sides will have every opportunity to air their grievances.

After the phases of consultation and collaboration, the EPA will provide feedback on how Tribal input was considered by the agency before final action was taken. A senior EPA official then pens a formal, written communication outlining the various aspects brought forth by the Tribe and noted by the agency to the most senior Tribal Official involved.

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